Thursday, October 16, 2008

Did Australia Torpedo a Promising Development on Whaling?

Whaling is a highly controversial issue these days, and conservation groups have made obtaining global consensus on whale protection a high priority. Strong resistance from a few pro-whaling countries like Norway and Japan has complicated this effort. Unfortunately, the BBC recently reported on the failure of a measure to declare that whale harvesting was not a scientifically valid method of increasing the size of fish populations. The measure, introduced at the World Conservation Congress, was supported by Japan and Norway after long, consensus-building sessions. Although a participant in such sessions, Australia withdrew support at the last minute because it wanted the measure to include stronger language.

Environmentalists must often walk a fine line between achieving consensus with governments and policymakers and sticking to their principles. Often, imperfect regulations or laws are preferred over no action. Given the often hostile feelings on both sides of the whaling issue, it is unfortunate that a rare consensus was broken at the last minute. There is no benefit to alienating pro-whaling nations, who have often threatened to leave the International Whaling Commission and make their own decisions about whaling. For whale conservation measures to work, consensus must be reached among many nations, as whales are very mobile and do not typically stay put. Let's hope that the Australians, Japanese and Norwegians all keep cool heads over this latest disagreement, and continue to participate in international decisionmaking over whaling issues.


andyo said...

It seems the BBC report was misleading in that the original consensus-based language, that was vetoed by Australia, could have been used by Japan to justify the continuing slaughter of many hundreds of whales each year for so-called 'research'.

I would also challenge your hope that 'Australians, Japanese and Norwegians all keep cool heads over this latest disagreement, and continue to participate in international decision making over whaling issues.'

The sad reality is that Japan, Iceland and Norway are not participating in any international decision making process. They are unilaterally pursuing the mass slaughter of whales in defiance of a global treaty and overwhelming world public opinion.

It is particularly sad that Australia alone all too often makes a principled stand while other governments simply posture on this issue.

If this cruel, outdated and unnecessary industry was as resolutely opposed by other governments that claim to oppose whaling, as it is by Australia, then whaling would be condemned to history where it belongs.

Andy Ottaway
Campaign Whale UK

Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition said...

But on the other hand, is there really a benefit to having pro-whaling countries leave the IWC and start their own commission where they kill as many whales as they want? You raise a valid point, but sometimes one must weigh principles and outcomes. Generally speaking, it can be worth it in the long run to keep people talking even if you have to pretend more consideration for opposing views than you actually have.

I can't and don't speak for everyone in my organization, but on other issues I know sometimes perceived slights and injustices just seem to cause people to dig in more.

I suppose I'm saying that even though I don't know all the particulars, regardless of the merits, I hope the negotiators in this situation don't antagonize each other needlessly. Incremental progress could be better than no progress.